England ground out an unconvincing 16-9 win against Argentina at Twickenham on Saturday.
Argentina were without four backline regulars, including playmaker Juan Martin Hernandez and stalwart Felipe Contepomi, which saw amateur pivot Santiago Fernandez spearheading their attack. The 23-year-old, who plays club rugby in Argentina and recently signed a deal with Boland, was expected to struggle in the flyhalf match-up against veteran Jonny Wilkinson.
Fernandez’s inexperience was evident in the opening exchanges, when his clearance from inside the Pumas’ 22 was charged down. Wilkinson then received the ball in the pocket and slotted a drop goal.
But England’s ill-discipline swung the momentum in the visitors’ favour, while fullback Ugo Monye also put his team under pressure by making several basic errors.
The match was dominated with the boot as Wilkinson and Pumas centre Martin Rodriguez traded penalties to make it 9-9 at half-time.
England suffered a frustrating period after the break, for while they managed to build some momentum, poor handling and good Argentinean defence prevented them from scoring.
Wilkinson also had the opportunity to kick England into the lead, but his boot was off target on three occasions.
However, England finally went ahead in the 71st minute when they broke Argentina’s defence out wide. The ball was passed to flank Lewis Moody, who drew in two defenders and put wing Matt Banahan into the gap for the try. Wilkinson added the extras.
There was a tense finish to the game with Argentina’s decision to run the ball getting them into England’s 22. Their forwards then spent the last couple of minutes bashing away at the tryline, but England’s defence held firm.
By Gareth Duncan